The Manti Te'o Story: What Happens When Journalists Drop the Ball - Intercollegiate Studies Institute: Think. Live Free.

The Manti Te’o Story: What Happens When Journalists Drop the Ball

Everyone loves a good news story. One that excites and motivates. But sometimes that’s all it is. Just a story.

It was September 15, the day of the highly anticipated Notre Dame-Michigan State football game. Three days earlier, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o learned that both his grandmother and his girlfriend died in a span of 24 hours. Despite the devastating news, Te’o recorded 12 tackles in the game and led his team to a 20-3 victory.

Following the Irish upset, Te’o went on to have a phenomenal season, becoming a Heisman trophy finalist and competing in the national championship game. His spectacular performances in the midst of heartbreaking loss were an inspiration to not just football fans but to people everywhere.

But thanks to a Deadspin article that was published a couple weeks ago, Te’o went from larger-than-life athlete to duped college kid. It turns out that Te’o’s girlfriend was not really dead. In fact, the girl known to the world as Lennay Kekua was not even real. A family friend of Te’o’s, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, made her up as a prank. It is a prank that has caused many to question Te’o’s maturity and some feel that his NFL draft stock may plummet as a result.

But as allegations, accusations, and speculations fly, it is important to step back and see the bigger picture. While many may focus on Te’o’s naivete or Tuiasosopo’s cruel sense of humor as the root of the problem, some of the blame has to be attributed to the negligent members of the media.

All journalists have a responsibility to rigorously fact check and make sure that sources are legitimate and the journalists who covered the Manti Te’o story failed in this responsibility.

The Deadspin piece revealed the vagueness and inconsistencies in the Te’o story that the journalists covering the story should have discovered much sooner than they did. There were too many questions and not enough answers.

When did Kekua actually die? The South Bend Tribune said that it was within 24 hours of Te’o’s grandmother’s death. The New York Post wrote that it was three days after her death, while ESPN and CBS claimed it was four.

Where was the funeral? The Associated Press reported that it was in Carson City, California, which does not even exist.

Rather than make sense of the confusing tale, news outlets were too eager to present a fascinating story to the American public and seemed to just push every dubious fact under the rug.

In this 24 hour news cycle, everyone is fighting to be the first to break the big story. Because of this, accuracy is often times sacrificed for immediacy. It is an unfortunate side effect of this technologically driven age, but it is one that needs to be remedied if we are to maintain the trust of the media whose duty it is to provide us with necessary and valuable information.

Yes, it is also the job of the journalist to grab his reader’s attention. But attention-grabbing news with no truthful substance carries as much weight as the gossip-filled pages of supermarket tabloids. The A-list journalists have a higher calling than that and their pieces must be accurately reported as well as creatively crafted.

But the facts must always come first in a story or else it is just a waste of time. At first, the story of Manti Te’o championing hardship captivated and inspired us. Now, we are left to shake our heads in disbelief.

Sometimes the compelling front page news story is too good to be true.

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